Sexual Harassment Prevention That Actually Works: Recurrent, Specific Training

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In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many companies have taken steps to establish or update their sexual harassment policies. However, these efforts are by no means coordinated or nationwide. In fact, only 17 of the 50 US states have legal mandates in place that require employers to provide employees with sexual harassment training.

With so many companies in the US still treating sexual harassment training as optional, it’s no surprise the problem persists.

Almost four in ten workers say they wouldn’t report sexual harassment in the workplace, and half of those workers wouldn’t do it because they fear the repercussions. Equally troubling is the fact that women are convinced their complaints would not be taken seriously. These are severe barriers to creating a healthy, equal, and collaborative work environment.

Sexual harassment is a real and devastating problem in the workplace, and it doesn’t hurt just the person who experiences it. It erodes trust in the company, its culture, and its leadership, creating a toxic environment of inequality and fear.

To root out harassment in the workplace, much more has to be done. Companies can start with raising awareness and helping employees understand the conduct and behaviors that are unacceptable. One of the best ways to do this is through anti-harassment training that goes beyond compliance-oriented programs (which do give a good baseline but are not enough on their own).

4 Keys to Effective Anti-Harassment Training in the Workplace

Eight in 10 employees feel safer at work after receiving sexual harassment training, according to a survey conducted by TalentLMS (of which my company, Epignosis, is the parent company) and The Purple Campaign. Sexual harassment prevention training also yields further benefits for both employees and employers: It drives awareness and understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment, makes employees feel more valued and more loyal to the company, and positively affects productivity.

Sexual harassment training should be a part of every company’s training program — but how do you ensure your sexual harassment training will make a real difference?

1. Reinforce Knowledge Retention

How often do you need to provide sexual harassment training to your employees?

The majority of the employees polled by TalentLMS and The Purple Campaign said they receive sexual harassment training on a recurring basis, with 54 percent receiving it once a year and 25 percent receiving it every six months. However, a quarter of all respondents were screened out from the survey because their employers hadn’t provided them with any sexual harassment training at all.

There’s clearly a lot of work still to be done — not just in implementing training, which should be the bare minimum, but in creating recurrent and refresher programs. Sexual harassment training, like any other training, should not be a one-and-done deal. Learners forget 70 percent of what they have learned after 30 days unless that knowledge is reinforced regularly. When you make sexual harassment training part of your recurring training schedule, you have a much better chance of ensuring positive behaviors will stick.

2. Keep Training Relatable and Up to Date

Your sexual harassment training program should keep up with the times. Respondents to the TalentLMS/Purple Campaign survey expressed the sentiment that the training they’ve received seemed old-fashioned and out of touch. This is because some companies have been using the same materials for years or even decades, and this kind of material just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Sexual harassment training should be up to date and engaging, using real-life examples and scenarios delivered in a way that is compelling for all generations. Both your content and your delivery methods need to take into account the massive influx of Generation Z employees in the workforce over the coming years, who tend to prefer short, interactive training sessions.

Keeping your training relatable means considering the new realities of work and how the conversations around sexual harassment have evolved. For example, cases of online sexual harassment have increased since the start of the pandemic and the transition to remote work. According to the TalentLMS/Purple Campaign survey, 29 percent of employees have experienced unwelcome behavior in online interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Get Specific

Not‌ ‌all‌ ‌people‌ ‌see‌ ‌things‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌way. Problems arise when someone cannot recognize that a specific remark, comment, or behavior is unacceptable — and why. And the data indicates there’s a gender gap when it comes to views on what constitutes sexual harassment.

Is invading someone’s personal space sexual harassment? 49 percent of men polled in the TalentLMS/The Purple Campaign survey think it isn’t, compared to 28 percent of women.

How about making suggestive remarks? Only 69 percent of men believe this constitutes sexual harassment, compared to 92 percent of women.

To respond to a potentially damaging situation — or even better, prevent it from happening — all of your employees need to know exactly which types of conduct constitute sexual harassment. Your training should provide specific examples of which behaviors are unacceptable. This helps everyone in the company get on the same page when it comes to appropriate workplace behavior.

4. Commit to Transparency

Identifying problematic behaviors can only do so much. When it comes to dealing with the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, you should focus as much on preventing it as addressing it. This means committing to transparency with a clear sexual harassment policy that explicitly outlines expectations for employee behavior.

You need to establish a direct link between your sexual harassment training and your sexual harassment policy. Every employee needs to know the rules, what is acceptable, what is not, and what happens if a line is crossed.

By identifying problematic behaviors and educating employees on how to address them, training lifts the veil of mystery that sometimes surrounds sexual harassment. Frequent and up-to-date training, combined with policies that focus on prevention as much as on reaction, helps your company build trust and demonstrate accountability among employees. It also sends a clear message: You’re committed to creating a safe and equal workplace where all employees can fulfill their potential.

Christina Gialleli is director of people operations at Epignosis, the parent company behind TalentLMS.

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By Christina Gialleli